The Rahul-Priyanka Gandhi Game-changer and Why the Modi-Shah Duo Must be Very Worried
What Congress has shown is its effort at consensus making and bringing like-minded parties together should not be seen as weakness.
The Congress party’s decision of appointing Priyanka Gandhi as General Secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh (East) is a political masterstroke in the march to the general elections.
This high-profile entry is going to impact elections not only in eastern U.P. but in the entire region of North India, and far beyond.
On the one hand, it will galvanise the Congress cadres, workers and supporters, and the same time it should worry its political opponents like the BJP and some of the allies of the Congress, who liked to see the party on the backfoot and at their mercy.
There is a frisson in social media, and political leaders have reacted sharply and positively over the entry of Priyanka Gandhi. The vice president of JD(U), an NDA ally, Prashant Kishore, quite surprisingly termed it as “the most awaited entry in Indian politics”, while Rashtriya Janta Dal leader Tejaswi Yadav says that her appointment “will not only energise youth and cadre but motivate 50 per cent female population of India.”
The three Nehru- Gandhi women (Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and now Priyanka Gandhi) have each joined politics at a time when the party was not in the pink of health. Priyanka will carry the legacy of her two seniors — Mother and Grandmother — before her to take forward. The battle between the two contesting visions of India (Nehru’s vs Savarkar’s), will certainly tilt the balance in favour of Nehruvian vision of inclusive India with the formal entry of Priyanka Gandhi at a time when the idea of Nehru’s India is under stress today like never before.
Indira Gandhi’s political journey too was not without challenges. When she decided to play a more significant role in Congress party, it was at a time when the fight for the control of the party was at its peak between the Syndicate led by formidable stalwarts like Morarji Desai, some of the members of Congress (closely connected and backed by the Industrial lobby). Leading the counter “Indicate”, in her early days in Parliament, Indira had to suffer veteran Socialists; Ram Manohar Lohia used terms like “Gungi gudiya” (dumb doll). However, gradually she became one of the most admired and powerful political leaders in post-independent India.
Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics, too, has come at a moment when her party’s fortunes are at a historic low with merely 48 seats in Parliament, the morale of workers is not at its highest.
Mrs Sonia Gandhi too took the responsibility of leading the Congress (1998) at a time when the party was at its one of its weakest. Narasimha Rao’s government, though a Congress government, had worked overtime to isolate the family of Rajiv Gandhi. Core support bases of the Congress had shifted, the minorities due to the Babri Masjid’s fall and the poor, in the immediate aftermath of liberalisation. The BJP was in the ascendant. But, Sonia Gandhi led the party to its first coalition government at the centre that lasted ten years and won two consecutive victories in 2004 and 2009 as the period of UPA-I and UPA-II. These ten years saw peace in the country, unprecedented economic growth, poverty reduction at massive scale and welfarism accompanied by an unprecedented broadening of peoples’ rights.
Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics, too, has come at a moment when her party’s fortunes are at a historic low with merely 48 seats in Parliament, the morale of workers is not at its highest, Samajwadi and BSP alliance anxious to marginalise the party further by offering them only two seats. It’s important here to note that by joining the party at this critical juncture, Priyanka Gandhi has made it clear that she is not here to enjoy the perks of power, but is there to put in the hard yards, and lead from the front where her party needs her services the most.
Eastern U.P. as the focus
The choice of this region (Eastern Uttar Pradesh) is particularly significant for various reasons.
The very same region has been at the heart of the battle for the idea of India. This is the same region from where Motilal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru rose to play significant roles in the freedom movement. Jawaharlal Nehru was an MP from Phulpur. He was arrested for the first time in April 1930 during Salt Satyagraha in the same area. Gandhi wrote a letter to Motilal Nehru terming Jawaharlal’s arrest as much needed rest for him. The city of Faizabad, too, comes in the same region where the demolition of Babri Masjid and Ram Mandir movement gave momentum to the BJP, followers of the idea of Savarkar’s exclusive India. This is the same area where the Hindu-right forces are trying to morph the idea of a plural India and replace it with their ideology of a Hindu India.
By choosing eastern U.P., Priyanka Gandhi has decided to lead the battle for the Nehru’s legacy from the front.
Be it rise of Yogi Adityanath from Gorakhpur to become the Chief Ministerial in Lucknow or Modi’s journey of Prime Ministership through Varanasi, or the name change of Mughalsarai and Allahabad, all of these are part of the same battle for the competing visions of India – all of them in East U.P.
By choosing eastern U.P., Priyanka Gandhi has decided to lead the battle for the Nehru’s legacy from the front. This is evident from Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s statement too that she is not here in U.P. for two or three months but for a much longer period for strengthing the party, and through that strengthening the idea of India.
Mahagathbandhan vs Gut-Bandhan?
The implication of this decision is going to be particularly significant in the politics of Uttar Pradesh which, with 80 MPs, plays a significant role in terms of deciding which party will rule at the centre. Only 15 days ago SP and BSP agreed to come together ostensibly to defeat the BJP/Modi, but they left only two seats for Congress out of 80 seats.
What Congress party has also shown is that the Rahul Gandhi-led party’s effort at consensus making and bringing like-minded parties together should not be seen as its weakness.
What was clear from this decision of the two regional parties that they wanted to defeat BJP but on the premise of containing the Congress. It was not clear on what grounds a party, which had won three crucial states in the region, just last month has been just shrugged off with a meagre offer of only two seats. BSP chief Mayawati dismissed the Congress saying it did not bring any value to the table. By this game-changing move, the Congress party has turned the table.
Political pundits thought that the fight in U.P. for 2019 was going to be bipolar (between SP-BSP and NDA, with the Congress content to sit on the side) but with this decision, the contest is going to be triangular. What Congress party has also shown is that the Rahul Gandhi-led party’s effort at consensus making and bringing like-minded parties together should not be seen as its weakness. The party is keen to extend its own version of the “Gujarat model” — how it fought the BJP in the state election in 2017 — expand and tap as much into the anti-BJP mood into the ground as other parties, and claim its place as the big pole around which an anti-BJP coalition would be built.
With the advent of such youthful leadership and energy in the Congress, the two greatest Savakarite warriors have started looking like the members of the Margdarshak Mandal they created in 2014.
(The author tweets at @alamtanweer)